Salem’s annual commemoration of the First Muster on Salem Common is tailor-made for families with children, who enjoy the pageantry, the cannon salutes, the historic uniforms and more, even on a cold, blustery day like Saturday.
But this year, we were reminded of much more.
It was the first such event since President Barack Obama designated Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard earlier this year. And for that reason, it was a special celebration.
The ceremonies honor the founding of the National Guard, which traces its history to 1637 when a variety of Colonial militias were organized into three regiments — North, South and East — and the East Regiment held its first muster on Salem Common. At the muster, all men between the ages of 16 and 60 were expected to bring their arms and train together to defend the colony in times of need.
That’s what the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard still do today. The Army National Guard regiments that organize this annual event are modern descendants of that East Regiment of the militia.
Their role has changed, however, in the past decade. Instead of defending their families, friends and neighbors at home, they’ve been called to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there, they did their jobs and more.
As Lt. Col. Tom Stewart of the 182nd Infantry Regiment noted, they and their friends and families arranged for medical supplies and care packages for Afghan families. One member of the regiment, Sgt. Paul Atkinson of Marblehead, was singled out for arranging to donate hundreds of surplus mattresses and bed frames, which were supposed to be thrown out, to two orphanages outside Kabul that care for 700 Afghan children. Supporters back home salvaged 300 sheets and blankets to donate with them.
Such examples of caring are a credit to the Guard, as well as the families back home, who not only make great personal sacrifices for these overseas deployments, but then go above and beyond what is expected to help families and children who are the victims of war halfway around the globe. The truth is that stories such as these are not at all uncommon. We’ve heard them over and over again, as returning soldiers talk about their efforts not just to save lives, but to improve lives.
They make all of us proud.
The First Muster serves as a reminder for us to let them know just how proud we are.